A.J. Minter has pitched well, but has given up unusual amount of home runs. How he views it.

Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



Braves relief pitcher A.J. Minter. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

When the Braves sent down A.J. Minter in 2021, he was, as he put it, “pissed off.” He went to Gwinnett with a different mindset.

“I’m gonna start trying to strike guys out,” he recalled of his thinking at the time.

“And the only way to strike guys out is you gotta get to two strikes,” he added. “So I was aggressive from the first pitch.”

To this day, he has kept this attack-minded approach – even if it is part of the reason for his befuddling beginning to this season.

Here’s what has occurred: Minter has been excellent, but he has already allowed five home runs. Entering Monday, he had only been scored on in five of 21 appearances, but all seven of his earned runs have come on homers. The five homers he has given up to this point are one off his career high in a single season, and it is only May. But he’s pitched well.

How do we make sense of it all?

“This game will make you go crazy, will make you sick at some times,” Minter said recently. “You try to eliminate the mistakes, and then it’s just a matter of if the hitters capitalize on those mistakes. And it seems like every time I do make, even if it’s just one mistake, I’m getting penalized for it. Look, you can always make a better pitch.”

This seems unsustainable. The home runs account for five of the 13 hits Minter has allowed this season.

Entering Monday, eight relievers had served up at least five home runs this season. Their ERAs: 4.67, 5.64, 3.12, 7.71, 5.50, 12.00, 3.57 and 6.32.

The 3.12 ERA belonged to San Diego’s Enyel De Los Santos, and the 3.57 ERA to Minter. But De Los Santos has had one outing in which he gave up a run on something other than a homer. Minter has not.

This cannot possibly continue, can it?

It has to even out in Minter’s favor, right?

“It’s one of those things in the game that happens, and you have to fight through,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s why this thing’s never easy. These guys make it look really easy, but it’s not easy. It’s part of the game. Especially as a reliever. …

“And then you go in spots like that where you miss your location and don’t get the ball back, and there’s other times you do the same thing and the guy will pop it up. There’s just no rhyme or reason. It’s what keeps us all coming back, I guess.”

Opponents are only batting .206 versus Minter. His WHIP is 1.019, which is lower than where he finished last season (1.191). His strikeout rate is lower, but not by a ton. His walk rate is also lower, which is good. His whiff rate is higher.

It’s too early to compare his numbers to last year, but we’re doing this to illustrate a point: Minter hasn’t pitched poorly in 2024.

“It’s just a matter of trying to keep the ball in the ballpark,” Minter said. “But I’m never gonna be scared to throw a strike. People don’t hit a lot of home runs off of me, but so far this year, it’s been kind of my nemesis. But I think it will even out and hopefully I’ll get away with a few more pitches here and there.”

One thing Minter can point to: He feels like his stuff has been slightly worse this season. And by that, he means his fastball velocity is a bit lower – he’s averaging 95 mph with his four-seamer this season compared to 95.8 mph last year.

But he feels like he’s commanding the ball well. His cutter, which he worked on over the offseason, appears improved.

“Even though I feel like my stuff hasn’t been as good this year, I feel like I’ve been pitching really good, even without my A-plus stuff,” Minter said. “Each game, I feel like my stuff’s getting better and better, and I think it’s going to definitely even out over time.”

And if you think this stretch is weird, strange or bad? Well, then look at how Minter started 2023. He had an ERA above 5.00 into early July before bouncing back and finishing strong with a 3.76 ERA.

Thus far in 2024, he’s pitched well. He has almost been dominant – if not for the homers. Of course, those long balls are part of his early-season story, but the point is this: Minter isn’t struggling. Those homers are just more glaring to the casual viewer, especially when two were walk-off shots.

Minter can look back on last year and realize something: This season has not been the same.

“I don’t think it could’ve been any worse than it was at the start of last year,” Minter said. “Every outing, I was just giving up weak hits and they were scoring runs. And then sure enough, it turned around in the second half. I know I can do it again. I’ve been there before and I’ve done it. So it’s definitely a lot less panic this year rather than in the past. I know especially in baseball, you’re gonna get some bad breaks here and there. But it’s just, solo home runs aren’t gonna kill me. I’ve given up some two-run home runs, but I’ll take those any day. Because you’re gonna give up home runs in this game, so the small ones aren’t going to take a beating on you.”

Over his career, Minter has learned that hitting is contagious. So why let hitters feed off one another?

“When you have runners on base, one, as a pitcher, you become careful and you become a little bit more timid and try to nitpick here and there, and therefore, you fall behind in the count. So I’ve learned that I don’t wanna walk guys, I don’t wanna give up free walks, free baserunners,” he said. “And then two, in my mindset, I think if I give up three hits in an inning, that’s the only way you’re gonna score a run off of me.

“I mean, yeah, you’re gonna give up home runs here and there, but I’m gonna make those guys get three hits. I’ll take the three best hitters in the world, and I don’t think I can give up three hits in an inning. Yeah, it happens every now and then. So I’ve just kind of lived and breathed by that. If that’s the way they score, then good for those guys.”

And in 2021, when he went down to Triple A and adopted a new mindset, Minter didn’t allow a single hit over 7 1/3 innings across seven appearances for Gwinnett. The Braves brought him back up and, since then, he’s been one of the better relievers in baseball.

His attack mentality can be best summed up by a personal goal he wants to accomplish.

“Ever since then, I’m trying to throw an immaculate inning every time I go out there,” Minter said. “That’s my number one goal – now. Now that we’ve won a World Series, my personal goal is I want to have at least one immaculate inning. So I’m coming at hitters and trying to throw nine pitches, nine strikes.”